Compagnons du Tour de France

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The Compagnons du Tour de France is a French organization of craftsmen and artisans dating from the Middle Ages, their traditional, technical education includes taking a tour, the Tour de France, around France and doing apprenticeships with masters. For a young man or young woman today, the compagnonnage is a traditional way to learn a trade while developing character by experiencing community life and traveling, the community lives in a Compagnon house known as a cayenne and managed by a mère, a woman acting as a second mother, of which there are more than 80 in France. The houses vary in size from a small house for five people to a larger one with more than 100 people living together.

Until recently, the compagnons were all male. Today, they can be found in 49 countries across five continents, practising many different trades.

A similar tradition exists for German Wandergesellen, or journeymen, to set out on the Wanderjahre.

"Tour de France" simply refers to the fact that the Compagnons travel throughout France; every six months to a year they are required to change work locations. This is unrelated to the Tour de France cycling competition, the word compagnon (companion) is derived from the Old French compaignon, a person with whom one breaks bread.


To start a Tour de France, one is required to already have a Certificat d'aptitude professionelle. With classes and an apprenticeship, it is the basic French trade qualification.

A first-year aspiring compagnon, known as a stagiaire (apprentice), works full-time work in the trade on weekdays and lives in the compagnon house. Dinner is eaten together at the siège (seat or lodge) of compagnons, those who want to become compagnons apply for the adoption ceremony.

Next the stagiare undertakes a travail d'adoption, a project that must be submitted to become an aspirant, the aspirant is then given a name according to his or her region or town of origin; for example, someone from Burgundy might be called Bourguignon. The aspirant receives a sash and a ceremonial walking staff representing the itinerant nature of the organisation, the ceremony is private, and includes only compagnons and aspirants.

An aspirant works full-time on weekdays and stays in the compagnon house. Dinner is eaten together at the house, the aspirant stays or tours in several towns over the next three to five years, working under compagnons, to learn the trade.

Eventually, the aspirant presents a masterpiece (travail de réception or chef-d'œuvre) to the board of compagnons. Masterpieces vary according to the aspirant's trade. If accepted, one may become a compagnon itinérant, receive a compagnon name and be presented with a new walking stick that reaches the height of the heart, some of the masterpieces are displayed at the Musées du Compagnonnage in Tours and Paris.

The compagnon itinérant then does three more years of touring, he or she then becomes a compagnon sedentaire and can choose where to live and work, and will then begin to teach the trade to apprentices.

Daily life[edit]

A typical weekday for a charpentier (roof carpenter/framer) would involve a day on-site working full-time for the company that employs the aspirant. Dinner between 7pm and 8pm with the community living in the house. Then are classes from until 10 pm in technical drawing, technology, French, English, mathematics etc, on Saturdays, classes are 8am-12pm and 1:30pm–5:30 pm. Skills are learned by making different projects and lessons.

Many maquettes are created by charpentiers and other woodworkers. A maquette is a wooden model that is conceived and created, first through drawings. Wood us cut and assembled to make the model. Many are made throughout the time of an Aspirants, each piece is expected to show that the lesson learned of the trade have been learned so far. Sundays are spent in exploring the area working on a masterpiece.

The initiation process has been described as a rite of passage, as defined by Arnold Van Gennep, it illustrates his theory in the early 20th century of the rite of passage, with its successive stages of isolation, marginality and aggregation into the social body.[1]


It dates to medieval times, when the Compagnons built the churches and chateaus of France and were persecuted by kings and the Catholic Church because they refused to live under the rules of either.

As a craftsman's guild, the Compagnonnage was banned by the National Assembly under the Le Chapelier Law in 1791, which was repealed in 1864.

During the German Occupation of France during World War II, the Compagnons were persecuted by the occupiers, who thought they were related to the Freemasons.


Notable Compagnons[edit]

  • Agricol Perdiguier, Avignonnais la Vertu (1805–1875), joiner.[2]
  • Adolphe Clément-Bayard, c. 1871, blacksmith
  • Edmond Le Martin, blacksmith/farrier who hosted many travellers in Dunes. Father of aviator Léon Lemartin.
  • Joël Robuchon, who became the official chef of Compagnon du Tour de France, enabling him to travel throughout the country to learn a variety of diverse regional techniques. As a companion, he also became inculcated with the spirit of reaching moral, manual and physical perfection.

In literature[edit]

The novel Le Compagnon du Tour de France was written by George Sand in 1840.


  1. ^ "Acceptance and masterworks". Carpenters from Europe and Beyond. Archived from the original on 2015-04-07. 
  2. ^ Traugott, Mark (1993). "Agricol Perdiguier". The French Worker: Autobiographies from the Early Industrial Era. University of California Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-520-07932-8. Retrieved 2014-11-25. 

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